Committing to Meditation

I’ve been meditating daily since November 2016. A practice as short as ten or fifteen minutes per day has drastically improved the quality of my daily experience. Nothing else (exercise, antidepressants, moving countries, changing jobs, successes, failures, etc.) has had anywhere near the effect that a short, daily meditation practice has had on my happiness.

However knowing that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to actually do. Next year I want to increase the amount of time I meditate per week, and I’ve been thinking about how to manage this increase.

In 2016, I started off with guided Headspace meditation, and the benefits were immediate and dramatic enough that I didn’t need much to sustain the short daily practice. Sits longer than about fifteen minutes, however, have been difficult for me to do consistently. At the start of 2018 I meditated for ten hours per day, for ten days, on a silent vipassana retreat in Twentynine Palms, CA. I am still happier today than I was before this retreat. But even after that transformative experience I have struggled to stick to longer practice.

I’ve tried many apps, with good results, but to no real avail in terms of duration. I’ve recently started Sam Harris’ new Waking Up app, which is excellent—but the sessions are also only about ten minutes. Over the years I’ve tried various other apps as well, but I really love Insight Timer, which I normally use for timed meditations. It has tons of free guided meditations too.

This got me thinking: How can I use Insight Timer to commit to a daily meditation practice? I decided last month I would start with an achievable amount: 1.5 hours per week. Now I just needed to track it.

I settled on using Insight Timer with RescueTime and Beeminder. RescueTime tracks the amount of time you spend in apps or on websites. Beeminder is a way of committing money to goals; if you fall off the wagon, you pay them. For more info on my ongoing Beeminder love affair, see my original 2013 post, which was mentioned on the Beeminder blog. Some of the graphs are out-of-date, but others are still functioning, or functioning in slightly altered forms, which surprised me.

To track meditation, I run whatever app (Headspace, Waking Up, etc) that I want to use for a guided meditation, or I use Insight Timer’s own guided meditations. I also frequently just use the timer and meditate on my own. I then leave the screen on with Insight Timer counting while I meditate. It keeps the screen on while it’s timing, which allows RescueTime to track the duration. RescueTime logs how long I spend in the app, using native Beeminder support. Then this total gets submitted automatically using Beeminder. Here’s the result, graphed in hours since I started on 27th November:

My meditation progress.

Note that sometimes I accidentally turn the screen off, which means RescueTime only logs a fraction of the time (those days look flat in the above graph). This is one downside to this approach, but I’ve decided to treat it as a feature rather than a bug: if I forget, and turn the screen off, then I just need to meditate more!

In 2019 I will gradually increase this, probably to about 3 hours per week. I know that many sources recommend much more meditation, something like an hour or two per day. I don’t currently need that much in my life right now, but if I decide I do in the future, it will be easy to adjust the Beeminder goal.

If you’re new to meditation, or even if you’re not, I highly recommend The Mind Illuminated, which is an unbelievably helpful guide from the absolute beginning to very advanced topics in meditation. If it looks too much like a textbook, you could also try Mindfulness in Plain English (an older version is available for free online here).

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